“If you just work on stuff that you like and you’re passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out?” – Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook.
Every entrepreneur has a different story to share and these entrepreneurs carve their stories differently for a different set of audience. Each word used in narrating these stories is planned carefully; sometimes keeping the achievements under the spotlight and pushing aside the harsh realities faced to reach that level of success. These moderated stories make covers of the famous magazines which aim to strike a chord of inspiration among their younger readers or entrepreneurs-to-be. No doubt these beautiful crafted stories are inspirational, but sometimes overshadow the actual struggles of entrepreneurship.
Keeping this in mind, Mobilink Discover Business Plan 2014-15 had a panel discussion organized during the event last week where three successful entrepreneurs shared their achievements and entrepreneurial struggles with the audience. They had great advices up their sleeves and the audience appreciated this session a lot. The panel included Fahad Tiwana – CEO TechValley, Faisal Zahid – Co-Founder Swaggable and Salman ul Haq – CEO TunaCode and the moderator of this discussion was Adnan Faisal, General Manager CIE, NUST.
Fahad Tiwana, CEO Tech Valley
Fahad Tiwana, CEO TechValley, runs a hardware & software consultancy firm, a non-profit organization Tiwana Foundation, and different blogging websites. The most popular one among these sites is, as he calls it, an engineering e-magazine WonderfulEngineering.com which gained 5.5 million readers in a short period of 18 months. This, however, is not his first venture. He started his entrepreneurial journey at age 18 and has so far, created and sold two of his business ventures. US Intermedia Group bought his website – RealityPod for $110,000 when he was a Civil Engineering student at NUST.
It struck to him that business was his passion when his team participated and stood runners-up for the project “Artificial Brain Controller Prosthetic Limb” in the first ever Mobilink Discover Program. The team secured 2 million rupees funding from then PM Yousaf Raza Gillani after they stood runner-up at GISTech Turkey 2011. Motivated by this new found passion, he declined an eighty thousand per month job offer to pursue his own business. At the time, many thought his decision to be crazy and stupid. However, fast forward the clock two years and no one can deny that it was probably the best decision of his life.
Fahad pointed out that social pressure of earning high figures right after graduation is a dream kill for most entrepreneurs in Pakistan. He added that there is no surety about the first break in entrepreneurship. This can be frustrating and demotivating, but one should keep moving forward without paying heed to other’s opinions.
Furthermore, Fahad told the inquisitive audience that acquiring funding in Pakistan is difficult as the funding culture is not well developed yet. You can either enlist the help of your family & friends or start a side business to gain capital for your main idea.
Fahad recalled his biggest challenge saying that finding an office in Pakistan for a young entrepreneur is not only difficult but expensive as well. He considers incubation is far better as it provides great support system through like-minded people, reduces the office cost and have networking opportunities for young entrepreneurs.
Faisal Zahid, Co-Founder Swaggable
The thought of traveling around the world was the driving force for Faisal Zahid. He used to envy frequent travelers and calculated his chance of embarking a journey across the world if he opted for a job. The good thing was that he chose to start his own venture and now, he spends half of his year in Silicon Valley while the other half in Pakistan. He was passionate about graphic designing and programming from high school but in order to learn professionalism and to develop networking, he took admission at SEECS, NUST. Here, he took different freelancing gigs and achieved great success which led him to launch his own company – Crafty Pixels. During his time at SEECS, he was given an opportunity to travel to Silicon Valley which proved to be insightful opening up his mind and improved his perception about entrepreneurship.
There he realized that brands waste 8 billion dollars on sending out samples to users who do not even care about their products. Realizing a business opportunity, he started Swaggable which connected brands to relevant customers using data analysis. The engineering office for Swaggable is based at NUST, Pakistan while the marketing office is located in Silicon Valley. He secured a seed funding of 1 million dollar and got featured in different international blogs including TechCrunch. His company is expected to value at 20 million dollars by November this year.
The biggest challenge for Faisal was to find the right partner since all the 3 products he launched earlier reached success and then failed afterward. He says that there are several considerations to take into account while working with a startup such as business model, a technical aspect, revenue model etc.
“It is not possible for one person to handle a startup and I learned that a co-founder should be someone who fills the void for your weaknesses.”
Faisal advised that it is essential to keep the big picture in focus and that constant innovation will keep any startup on top of its competitors. He added that incubation centers and networking events can help create the right vision and mindset in addition to facilitating with different startup related issues.
Salman ul Haq, CEO TunaCode
Salman ul Haq was just 16 years of age when he used to close deals for designing e-stores for small businesses. He feared for being taken non-serious and immature because of his young age which is why he completed most orders over the phone before meeting the clients personally. Most of them were shocked that all this time they were dealing with kids.
Salman was in 8th grade when Java became popular in early 2000 in Pakistan. Following the lead and his interest, he earned certifications in the computer language and learned website designing. He started e-store business to make use of his skills. After a few years, he took admission in a university where he realized that it was difficult for him to work for someone else. He admitted that it was frustrating for him to not be able to do what his heart desired. Therefore, he set aside one year after graduation to try his luck at starting a new venture and he never looked back.
Salman reflected that starting a venture from the technology end rather than marketing end was a mistake and he wasted a lot of time on that. Learning from this experience he started TunaCode which was based on Software As A Service (SAAS) providing services to different companies and he called it, “processing pixels on cloud”.
Salman advised the entrepreneurs that before executing any idea, first validate and find out the product market fit then move towards the execution part. He mentioned that Pakistani entrepreneurs face higher cost of failing such as family commitments and expectations. This is not the case in Silicon Valley where failure is celebrated and taken as a personality trait that is not afraid of a challenge to learn new things.
An interesting thing to note here is that all of these startups are incubated at the Technology Incubation Center of NUST. NUST also recently made it to the top 100 universities of the world in rankings.
These were the three entrepreneurial stories of success and challenges. We hope that you learned a lot from this article and realized the kind of difficulties that come up when starting a new venture. Best of Luck for your entrepreneurial journey! And don’t forget to share your comments below.
Image Credits: The images were taken from publicly available Google Images and Open Islamabad.